British Columbia

The curious case of the misplaced curb

Critics say the curb is indicative of a broader problem across the city — sidewalks designed without wheelchair users and other mobility-restricted people in mind.

Wheelchair users say the misplaced curb is indicative of a broader problem with inaccessible sidewalks

Accessible design specialist Stan Leyenhorst at the corner of SW Marine Drive and Yukon Street in Vancouver. Leyenhorst says cities are working towards sidewalks that work better for all types of users, but there are still gaps. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

Some Vancouverites may call it an engineering mishap. Others may refer to it as a bureaucratic boondoggle. 

If you're wheelchair user Gabrielle Peters, you would call the new curb on the northwest corner of Yukon Street and SW Marine Drive an insult. 

"My real reaction to the city is, how dare you — how dare you think this is acceptable?" Peters said. 

"This isn't something that they should be doing wrong in 2019."

The problem for Peters was that, after months of construction in front of two new luxury rental condos, last week the sidewalk was reopened to pedestrians to reveal this:

The new crosswalk at SW Marine Drive and Yukon Street left some Vancouverites scratching their heads. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC News)

After CBC News contacted the city and the developer, Concord Pacific, to notify them of the issue, the developer's workers quickly built a new curb cut to match up with the crosswalk, and blocked the other one off.

Vancouver's director of streets and planning, Taryn Scollard, acknowledged the city's mistake. Scollard said the ramp was placed to align with the intersection's final configuration, which should be finalized in a few months.

Concord said it would pay for the temporary curb out of its own pocket.

But Peters says it should have been built correctly in the first place, keeping safety in mind for everyone who uses it whether the intersection be finished or not. 

Advocates like Peters say the curb at that intersection is indicative of a broader problem across the city — sidewalks designed without wheelchair users, strollers and other mobility-restricted people in mind. 

"I was appalled, but not shocked, because the design flaws around intersections in the city are far more common than the design successes," she said.

"There's a different reaction when it's something new — and it does sting." 

New curbs coming

The intersection is in front of the relatively new Marine Gateway station of the Canada Line, in South Vancouver.

Tall condo towers are quickly growing around the station, including developer Concord Pacific's new W1 buildings across the street where the new sidewalk is.

Concord describes the condos as "prestigious" and "luxurious" on its website. Two-bedroom rental units start at $3,060 per month.

The developer says it worked with the city to build amenities like sidewalks. Scollard says city engineers would likely have signed off on the final placement and design. 

"I can definitely understand the public's confusion and sort of questioning as to what's going on there," Scollard said.

The city does prioritize accessibility, Scollard says — adding that in July 2018 council agreed to spend more money on installing new curb ramps throughout Vancouver.

This ramp just slipped between the cracks, she says.

'Lack of comprehensive design'

Stan Leyenhorst, an inclusive design specialist who works with cities like Vancouver, says the problem was probably caused by miscommunication between city departments and the developers.

Leyenhorst says he was impressed that the developer acted so quickly to build a temporary ramp to line up with the crosswalk. 

"There has been a movement to do better. And I think the desire is there, but I do believe that there is a lack of comprehensive design or consideration, and communication between the parts that are doing the developing," he said.

Watch Leyenhorst describe the problems with the intersection, and what he thinks should be done about it:

Universal access consultant Stan Leyenhorst explains how to design a better sidewalk. 1:06

Inclusive design can be a moving target, Leyenhorst says, because new features are constantly being developed.

Nonetheless, Leyenhorst would like to see cities like Vancouver implement an accessibility master plan that would make it more predictable for wheelchair users like him to predict how they'll get around.

"I get frustrated," he said. "I run into longer distances because I realize I can't get down off the curb." 

Leyenhorst says the focus in design circles days is less about accessibility for specific groups of people and more about building cityscapes that work for everyone — seniors, children, wheelchair users and more.

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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